A Perfect Example of Followership

“Followers are more important to leaders than leaders are to followers.”

— Barbara Kellerman

A meeting District 1N Heads of IAPS took place last night at Mill Hill School. Afterwards, walking across the campus, we encountered VW Beetle, well off the beaten track overhanging a set of steps. A rather embarrassed parent was engulfed by a dozen quizzical Prep School Heads. What happened next was both very funny and hugely enlightening.

Funny: well, can you imagine 6 men dressed in suits, of a wide variety of shapes and sizes (and ages), setting their shoulders to the front end of Beetle, recalling their salad days in the tight 5 of their college Rugby Team. And by the way, it was a New Beetle which does have the engine in the front before you ask…

And enlightening? As school leaders, we try to do just that: inspire, motivate, cajole, coax, enable…but there was a moment, a palpable, collective and unspoken agreement that, despite the fine dinner awaiting us, we would assist. Putting all thoughts of ruined suits and dry cleaning aside, we did the decent thing. It wasn’t about leading. It was about following and I am mightily impressed with my colleagues for demonstrating it.

A Google search for the term “Followership” will provide a plethora of advice, examples and definitions. And it is clear that leaders are nothing without followers. Therefore the development of the skills in followership are essential if an organisation is to be successful. Here, from the Holden Leadership Centre at the University of Oregon,  are 7 key behaviours identified in effective followership:

  • Volunteering to handle tasks or help accomplish goals
  • Willingly accepting assignments
  • Exhibiting loyalty to the group
  • Voicing differences of opinions, but supporting the group’s decisions
  • Offering suggestions
  • Maintaining a positive attitude, even in confusing or trying times
  • Working effectively as a team member

Accepting and actively encouraging these traits in a staff team will only strengthen the whole. Furthermore, encouraging Senior Leaders to themselves encourage these behaviours amongst the staff, will further extend the opportunity for those with a voice to feel enabled and participate effectively.

In the 3 minutes it took us to heave the VW up the stairs, all 7 of those traits were on show.

I just wish I had a photo!

It did happen, honest.

Published by Neil Jones

Free School Principal, writing on leadership in schools. Education anorak, a fan of the learning potential in the social web and of Leyton Orient FC.

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